Over the last few years, positional labels have become more and more fluid in the NBA. While traditional power forwards have dominated for decades, big men that can step outside the arc have quickly created a league-wide movement. Today, players like the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis have helped to revolutionize the position, but there are still plenty of underrated power forwards flying under the radar.
At a position dominated since 1995 by future Hall of Famers like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, the new era at power forward has certainly arrived. While none of these players have earned an All-Star selection quite yet, they’re all key pieces to a playoff contender or an up-and-coming squad. Here are six underrated power forwards that will deserve your attention for many years to come.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Sadly, the Milwaukee Bucks’ prized power forward has been badly hampered by injury in his short three-year career, but there’s still reason to believe in Jabari Parker. After a completely healthy 2015-16 season, Parker had started to put it together alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, averaging 20 points, 6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 52.5 percent shooting, all career highs.
Before his injury, Parker was firing on all cylinders, punctuated by the 31 points, nine rebounds and seven assists he poured in during a 25-point victory over the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 28. While athletes rarely recover completely from a second torn ACL, Parker is just 22 years-old and should be a crucial piece to the Bucks’ lengthy starting lineup for a very long time.
Under the tutelage of head coach Jason Kidd, Parker averaged 1.3 three-pointers per game this season, a massive leap from his minuscule 0.5 attempts mark in 2015-16. Simply put, Parker was already a terrifyingly adept scorer who suddenly discovered his long-range stroke, a sentiment that should scare just about everybody. Overshadowed by his injuries, it’s been a tough road for Parker so far, but the talented forward from Duke has all the tools if he can stay off the trainer’s table.
Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets
When Frank Kaminsky entered the draft after his senior year at Wisconsin, the writing was on the wall. As a big body that could adequately defend while also stretching the floor for the Badgers, Kaminsky was joining the league at the perfect time. It’s taken the better part of his two professional seasons to get the tank fully operational, but Kaminsky has officially put the league on notice this winter.
On the season, Kaminsky has averaged 11.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest, but since February, he’s failed to score in double figures on just three occasions. Even better, he’s stepping out and making a difference from deep, hitting two or more three-pointers in 18 of the Hornets’ 25 games that he’s played in.
As of today, the Hornets are winners of seven of their last 11 games, narrowly keeping their chase for the final playoff berth alive, and Kaminsky’s emergence is a huge reason why. He’ll likely never average a double-double, but with three-point shooting numbers like these — 38.2 percent since March — Kaminsky is turning into a quality building block for Charlotte.
If he can make performances like his 23-point, 13-rebound and 5-for-9 three-point effort against the Sacramento Kings in February happen more often, Kaminsky will a household name before too long.
Ryan Anderson, Houston Rockets
Believe it or not, Ryan Anderson has made 1,168 three-pointers over his nine-year career, good for 60th-most in NBA history, and has already surpassed the likes of Rasheed Wallace, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson in his chase. Since his rookie year in 2008-09 with the New Jersey Nets, Anderson has consistently been one of the league’s best shooters throughout his stops with the Orlando Magic, New Orleans Pelicans and now the Houston Rockets.
Even with a lingering right ankle injury, Anderson has knocked down 187 three-pointers this season, tied for 12th-most in the NBA. Although he hasn’t replicated his massive 213 three-point total from 2012-13, Anderson’s on-court abilities make him a threat to catch fire at any time.
In Houston, he’s the perfect piece next to MVP candidate James Harden. Not only does Anderson drag his defender to the perimeter, thus opening the paint for Harden to penetrate, but he’s one of the best catch-and-shoot players out there — a huge reason why the Rockets agreed to give him $80 million through 2020.
Should the Rockets get over their upcoming playoff roadblock, it’s fair to assume that the sharp-shooting Anderson will have found his stroke once again.
Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves
Admittedly, it can be easy to forget about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng given the talent around him. Even though he’s one of the franchise’s best defenders by a large margin, it’s hard not to focus on Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns — but no longer!
Dieng anchors the defense with Towns in a fluid, interchangeable frontcourt system, often doing the dirty work so his teammates can take care of the scoring efforts. Aside from staying healthy — Dieng played in 82 games in 2015-16 and is on pace to start in all of them this year — the former Louisville product has become a fantastic component in this unsolved Minnesota puzzle.
Dieng only averages 10 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, but he fills his role remarkably well, ranking 11th in the NBA for defensive real plus-minus, just a shade behind superstar Anthony Davis.
Whether it’s been his solid pick-and-roll defense or ability to help erase some of the star trio’s missteps, Dieng has certainly carved out an important role in head coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation. While the Wolves have disappointed all season long, Dieng has proven that his big contract extension last fall was well worth it.
He doesn’t stretch the floor like some of the players on this list do, but his defensive worth will be a huge reason why this potential-laden franchise finally turns the corner.
Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks
With an impending trip to restricted free agency on the horizon, it was Nerlens Noel that quickly became a surplus player in Philadelphia. Once lauded as a defensive game-changer, Noel had a strange season working his way back from injury and navigating what he had called “a logjam” in the frontcourt back in September. Now in his third NBA season, Noel has found a new home with the Dallas Mavericks as a potential centerpiece for the former Western Conference powerhouse.
In 61 games last season with the 76ers, Noel averaged 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, protecting the rim valiantly on a particularly bad roster. After missing out on DeAndre Jordan a few summers ago, the Mavericks have quietly built a sneaky young roster. Sure, the blossoming nature of Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry has been nice, but it’s the addition of Noel that could get the Mavericks back to contention quicker than expected.
Noel turns 23 years-old next week and he won’t be cheap to retain this summer, but he’s still got the same potential as a defensive anchor that he did back in 2014. During an 11 point win over the Los Angeles Clippers in late January, Noel put up 19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks — if he could put up numbers similar to that in an expanded role for Dallas next season, it’d be money well spent for the Mavericks.
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz
As the NBA playoffs are set to begin soon, the eventual return of the Utah Jazz’s Derrick Favors looms large. After missing the last 14 games with a bone contusion in his left knee, the underrated Favors could be just what the Jazz are missing heading into the postseason. Alongside Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, Favors forms a towering defensive frontcourt.
Favors’ impact on the defensive end is often praised, and his career averages of 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game back that up for the physical rim protector. Forced out of the spotlight with Gobert’s emergence, the versatile power forward has continued to make strides in what was an originally limited game. Favors has improved as a jump shooter in nearly every season, and he’s currently shooting 43.5 percent on shots 10-to-16 feet away from the basket in 2016-17, a career-high.
With Trey Lyles struggling to log minutes in head coach Quin Snyder’s rotation and a matchup with Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers nearly locked in, Favors’ prowess in the paint is much-needed. As the Jazz look to win their first playoff series since 2009-10, Favors’ anticipated return could not be more well-timed, so don’t be surprised if he’s a big difference maker this spring.
NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise
The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.
He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.
He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.
Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.
The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.
“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.
“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.
So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.
As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.
In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.
But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.
So is Porzingis.
Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.
In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.
Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.
And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.
“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.
“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”
Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.
Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.
The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.
So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.
Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.
If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.
So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.
Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.
To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.
When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.
He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.
And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.
With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word.
It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.
For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.
In this town, that’s more than half the battle.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”